January 23, 2001                                                                         Contact: Laura Kiernan
For Immediate Release                                                                Public Information Officer
                                                                                                  271-2646 x359  

CONCORD--The New Hampshire Supreme Court is seeking written comment from the public on proposed changes to the makeup and procedures of the Judicial Conduct Committee recently recommended by the "Task Force for the Renewal of Judicial Conduct Procedures."

Last fall, the court asked the Rev. Jonathan DeFelice, the president of St. Anselm College and attorney Wilfred L. Sanders Jr. of the Hampton-based law firm of Sanders & McDermott, to create the task force and lead a completely independent review of the JCC’s work. The task force members included business, educational and religious leaders, a former governor, elected officials and representatives of the courts and the legal profession. After a public process that included a public hearing and open meetings, the task force had released its findings and recommendations to the judiciary, the legislature, the Governor and the public by January 10th.

The justices believe it is in the public interest for the court to move as expeditiously as possible to respond to the task force recommendations. The next step is for the court to bring citizens into the process and ask for their views. Comments will be accepted until March 2nd.

The court recognizes that each branch of government will assess its role with respect to the JCC and its operation. The legislature is also reviewing the task force report and other legislative proposals related to the JCC and the justices welcome input from legislators to achieve the best result for the people of New Hampshire.

"While the legislature wrestles with these issues and we do as well, public comment will be helpful in getting us to where we want to go," said Associate Justice Linda S. Dalianis, chairman of the court’s Advisory Committee on Rules.

Recommendations in the January 5th task force report included a newly structured Judicial Conduct Commission; the creation of an advisory committee on judicial ethics, separate from the commission, and proposed amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct.

In 1973, New Hampshire was among the first states to adopt a code of judicial conduct that had been approved just a few months earlier by the American Bar Association. With that action, our state formally recognized that supervision over the conduct of judges is essential to sustain public confidence in the justice system. Today, almost 30 years later, the court’s commitment to that principle, enforced by the Judicial Conduct Committee, remains absolutely firm.

Last summer, it was clear that  public confidence in the process for evaluating allegations against judges would be strengthened if the JCC were given more independence in its structure and internal procedures. Members of the JCC urged that changes be made.

The procedural recommendations are now complete and the task force expects to submit an additional report on operating rules within the next few weeks.

The committee report is available on-line. Comments can be e-mailed to the court at  "JCCcomment@courts.state.nh.us" or sent in written form to the court clerk’s office. Printed copies of the report are available for review at the Supreme Court Building at One Noble Drive in Concord.